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“To whomsoever it may Concern”*

January 10, 2010

This Blog has temporarily been shut down.

Taking a cue from the Tata Indicom guy who assured me that it will take anywhere from ” 3 hours to 4 days” for my internet connection to be repaired, I can only say ” 2 weeks to 3 months to…never?”

Missives from home

December 8, 2009

An efficient person I am not. And juggle I cannot.The first thing to suffer is the blog.

Regular blogging shall resume in a week’s time, I hope.

Till then I leave you with a few pictures

Sunset over Brahmaputra ,view near my house …

But fuck the sunset and lets talk food :

An everyday simple Assamese meal

Its definitely a nightmare for vegetarians.There is fish steamed in banana leaf, Maasor Tenga (Sour Fish Curry) and fried fish.

And the magician at work

(The Master Chef slaving it out, while the Chef Sous is busy clicking pictures)

They fucking tore me apart

November 20, 2009

In one of my particularly masochistic moods when I thought I was not depressed enough , I decided to sign up for this site iwillfuckingtearyouapart.blogspot.com.

Yes, it does exactly what it promises. They fucking tore me apart.You send your blog and they fucking tear you apart,bring you down to your knees till you swear off the internet. They ripped almost all my post contents, were condescending of my writing style and dismissed my arguments, found my template boring and my posts rambling.

Funnily it didn’t offend me as much in the first instance.I mean, I am the little girl who when she asked her mother why all her passport size photographs look so funny was told by her mother ” your photos will look the way you look!!!”.And a month back her very good friend told her ” You are cute in your own way” WTF.

You see, I have my personal put-me-down squad,which not only keeps me firmly grounded,but at times almost makes me wish I could find a hole to bury myself.

Till I went back and re-read this particular line

“She can form a coherent sentence and at least attempts to be grammatically correct. I’m assuming (perhaps wrongly) that English is a second language for her. If I’m right, then that’s pretty impressive. I know a few native speakers of this fine language that can’t do that. But being a good blogger entails a lot more than good grammar and sentence structure.”

Umm, do i sense a bit of (the dreaded R word) here?

I honestly thought the site was run by a group of intelligent AND funny people,not a bunch of clueless  neanderthals ,with antiquated ideas of the world structure and who believe that the brown skin implies less IQ.And whose idea of criticizing someone is to call her “Bitch”-like its a bad thing!!!Read the comments-  they are priceless,almost on par with the rediff ones. All comments were related to my post on tipping and  on feminism. I couldn’t understand some of the comments they left on my earlier post. Oh ,that might be because I am a ‘non-native’ speaker of english.I wish would type out slowly (preferably in caps) . YOU .STOOPID.WRITE.BAD…with the omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunks or deafs or people who simply donot understand their language.

Example of a comment on that blog

“I HATE with a passion people who don’t tip. I think it is cheap and wrong and I would never read this blog or the other creepy Indians blog for that reason alone.”

The saving grace of my blog,according to them?  My travel photographs .And my niece. Of course. Why do you think I am pimping her pictures here.When all else fails put up pictures of cute babies.

My take on the blog : The idea is fantastic.The kind you wish you had come up with in the first place.

Honestly though, they didn’t rip me apart as bad as they could and should have. (maybe they got too bored?).But that one line I quoted kind of put me off the whole thing..You get my point?

AWARDS and HONOURS

A glimpse into the life of Anims in Bhutan

November 18, 2009

Published in Nov 14th Hindustan Times ,Mumbai

https://lostonthestreet.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=1431

It was the last night of our rather extended stay in Bhutan. From trying the national dish of cheese and chili with red rice, watching a traditional archery contest, getting blessed by a wooden phallus, to climbing hours to reach a monastery perched on a cliff, we tried it all. We spent hours browsing over the weekend market- flutes made of thigh bones, antique masks and ancient manuscripts written in Dzongkha.  We were suitably awed by the impressive Dzongs (fortress- monasteries) and just as stunned by the scenery.

I was browsing over a few coffee table books on Bhutanese life in our hotel lobby. Almost all the books had a picture of a monk or a Dzong on the cover. Understandably so, since they were all written by the White Man for whom the mystique of Tantric Buddhism is still a big draw to this Himalayan kingdom. One book which caught my eye was Marie Venø Thesbjerg’s Women of Buddha, and looking  closely I saw that the silhouettes I had mistaken for monks were actually those of nuns ,sitting on a rocky peak  overlooking the valley. By the time I leafed through the book, which gave a sneak peek into the obscure world of the nuns in Bhutan, I knew I had to unpack my bags yet again. A few frantic calls later I managed to convince our trusted driver Kindsay Lodhay to accompany me and my sister to the Kila Goemba nunnery, about an hour’s drive from Paro.

The nunnery falls on the way to the more famous Chele La, the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. A small nondescript signboard in Dzongkha, pinned onto a tall pine tree at a hairpin bend of the main road, is the only indication the hiking trail to the nunnery. Unlike the Dzongs, this nunnery definitely did not wish to be on the tourist circuit and the signboard and the trail were as inconspicuous as possible.  From the main road, if you peer through the tall trees you can see the nunnery tucked away in the forest. A perfect place for a meditation centre as it was intended to be. Made as inaccessible as possible precisely to avoid pesky onlookers like us!

Ten minutes into our climb, we see a group of five nuns walking in a straight line up ahead in the hills. We tried to fasten our pace so that we can go with them to the nunnery. But the nuns were not as enthusiastic about our company, and the next thing we knew, a couple of watch dogs came barking towards us. I was all set to jump off the cliff rather than face a pack of ferocious canines. Loday managed to convey to the nuns that we mean no harm. Thankfully they relented and the dogs retreated to join the nuns. If by setting the dogs on us, the nuns were testing our perseverance, we clearly passed.

An hour later we reached the gates of Kila Goemba. Far removed from the impressive Dzongs we have seen till then, the nunnery was in shambles. The entire structure nestles on a craggy patch of a mountain and is surrounded by a lush forest dominated by tall firs. It is a series of rooms perched precariously along the rock face. Here the nuns, called Anims, live a life of contemplation and seclusion, with daily prayer and spiritual practice

The nunnery seems almost deserted. We went snooping around and reached a small stone flagged courtyard surrounded by rooms. A couple of young nuns, in maroon habits and red sweatshirts stepped out gingerly. Loday introduced us to the nuns in Dzongkha as the nuns were not very conversant in English. He must have done a good job of fielding their concerns because they soon warmed up and the young Anims, Tenzing Choden and Tshering Wango led us to their attic room. It was a small cramped room with a tin bukhara in the middle. The warmth inside the room was a pleasant change from the cold mountain winds outside. A huge tawny cat seemed to agree with me as it curled up next to the bukhara. We made ourselves comfortable on the floor as Choden made tea for us in a hot plate. This was a typical hostel room!! Hot plates, packets of biscuits and noodles, a radio, books stacked up in a table and posters all over the room. Though the posters were those of the King and Queen of Bhutan, the radio was tuned in to Bhutanese rap.

Over tea and biscuits we got talking –broken English, a bit of sign language and lots of translation by Loday.

Kila Goemba, built in the early 9th century is one of the oldest of the seven nunneries in Bhutan. A fire destroyed most of the original structure and was rebuilt and officially established in 1986 as an Anim Dratshang (religious community of Buddhist nuns). Currently there are around 40 Anims in this nunnery, ranging in age from 13 to 80.

“Where are the rest?” we ask. It seems one of the nuns have fallen sick and many went with her to the nearest hospital in Paro. The group we met earlier was returning after dropping off the rest who accompanied the sick nun.

Life is definitely not easy for the nuns. Their routine sounded a tad too ruthless to me. Getting up as early as 4, the first half of the day is set aside in learning Dzonghka, English, basic Math, scriptures and musical instruments which are used for religious functions. The rest of the day is spent in meditation and self learning. Some of the older nuns have retired into meditation, while many of the younger ones pursue basic Buddhist studies and perform religious ceremonies. While some are inspired to become nuns, for a few it is but a refuge from extreme poverty and loneliness. The physical structures of many nunneries are seriously dilapidated and some are even structurally unsafe. They have to manage with the 1700 Nu they get from the government per month which they supplement with some earning form conducting private ceremonies. The closest shop is in Paro which involves walking down the entire hill and waiting for a car to give them a lift from the main road.

Tenzing herself joined the nunnery at the tender age of 9 and Tsehring at 4.My obvious question was ‘Why?’ They smiled and said “Because we wanted to”. Is it as simple as that? I am still a bit skeptical about 4 year olds taking such drastic decisions and most importantly being allowed to do so by their families. They do go over to meet their families every few months. Though Gembo Zan, 17, who came here all the way from Bhumtang in Central Bhutan goes home only once in two years. She is the quietest of the lot and was busy making cotton wickers for lamps. As a rule they all had to shave their heads when they joined the nunnery, and only the very senior monks are allowed to grow their hair long.

The girls get more cordial now and show us their belongings- books, posters and even a scrap book. The first page of the book was not a religious chant but the lyrics of ‘Kaho Na Pyaar Hain’. Who says nuns should not appreciate God’s finer creations –like Hrithik Roshan’s rippling muscles.

Choden takes us to meet the nun, Anim Dukhon, who at 88 is the oldest Anim in the nunnery and is fondly referred to as Ange(grandmother).

Ange’s hut is further away on the cliff and she has the entire house to herself, which she shares with around four cats. She was immediately thrilled to have us as visitors, definitely a first for us that day. Ange was a spinster staying alone in a small village near Paro when she decided to join the nunnery, rather late, at the age of 40. “I was alone and with no one to care for me, so I chose to come to this nunnery. Now I feel very peaceful and happy being here.” Ange tells us. Her tiny hut had a small altar lined with butter lamps. The dark polished wooden floor in front of the altar had a clear imprint of a pair of footprints. The outline was more prominent near the toes and faded away towards the heels. I wondered aloud how she got it done. Loday laughed and said it was Ange’s footprint and she didn’t get it ‘done’. That is the precise place where she stands and prays everyday and over the years the wood got molded into the exact shape of her feet. I simple refused to believe that just by standing at the same place over years, a frail lady can manage to press down the hard wooden floor. As if sensing my cynicsm, Ange gave me a toothy grin and stepped on to the imprint. It fit perfectly, somewhat like Cinderella’s shoes!! For the past 40 years Ange has stood on the same spot and in typical Buddhist way of praying, prostrated before the altar, by lying face-down on the ground and stretching out her arms and legs. For the past 40 years, she has been getting up every morning to repeat this routine for precisely 1000 times. And to prove that age has not stopped her, the old lady did four quick successions right in front of us. She was faster and more agile than I was. When we asked permission to take pictures, her womanly vanity took over and the 88 year old nun spruced herself up, wore a few beads and finally deigned to have her picture taken with us.

The private rooms were off limits but we saw a few curious tonsured heads peering out of the windows. A visiting family just came in to meet their daughter, one of the youngest Anim. And typical of any mother, the woman was carrying a basket of goodies for her daughter, lugging it all the way up the mountain. Something told me that at night there would be a secret midnight feast in one of the dorm rooms of Kila Goemba.

(Ange’s foot imprints on the hard wooden floor)

Finally hitting the roads again..

November 6, 2009

Its been weeks ..days 😛

Off  on a  GypsyFeet trip.Now that winter is here (those in Mumbai, yes the rest of the country is taking out the woollens,while you sweat under soaring mercury levels), our winter trips are all lined up.

I will be taking a group of girls for the GypsyFeet Fab 3 trip,  post which I shall meander around in the North East ,setting up more homestays and getting in touch with local guides.

So , join us for anyone of these trips , for your winter holidays.. Unless you plan to work right through the winter? 🙂

I love winters at home. Primarily because of the food.Of course. Magh Bihu is in the air.Every house you go to will still serve you pitha (rice cake),laru (coconut ladoos) and proper tea (not the milky chai,which I hate).

Winter means wrapping up in my old Naga Shawl and indulging in the favourite pastime of all Assames ” Jui Phua and Adda Maara” ( a deadly combination of sitting by the bonfire and gossiping late nights- this activity along with the afternoon siesta has been responsible for the current state of affairs of North East.Don’t blame the insurgents.)

Bogori (a kind of wild berry,donot know the English equivalent of it.Any Assamese,Unmana?QuirkyMon?)

Jolphai (a kind of olive, which is best had boiled and mashed with mustard oil and chillies..am almost salivating as I write this)

Dhekia (Fronds- yes we eat this.My personal favourite)

Koldil (Fruit of the Banana Plant)

Ou Tenga (Elephant Apple).

and of course Maas (fish).

Slurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrp…Should I do a detailed post on Assamese cuisine?

Of Rs.6000 a plate Butter Chicken and Rs.25 a plate chicken curry.

November 2, 2009

Where in the world will you get fish curry for 15 Rs. Or chicken curry for 20 Rs. Dahi Vada for Rs.3.

Yes, my dear friends ,or should I say comrades, we are in JNU.Where yours truly spent the two most decadent years of her life.

I was in Delhi last week for some work, and till the night before had no clue where I would stay. Most people I knew have moved out . I need not have worried.There is always someone you know who would know someone who would be in JNU. Once a student, it is difficult to break ties. Comrades in crime from JNU days ,Nilanjana, fixed me up with her old classmate, Ronald,currently doing his Phd.So the first night in JNU was spent in a guy’s hostel.  In JNU girls can stay over at the guys hostel for the night- fortunately or unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way!!The only queasy part was using the bathroom.Unless you fancy brushing your teeth  and staring ahead at the mirror reflecting some random guy’s back as he takes a leak, I wouldn’t recommend a guy’s hostel to you.I had a couple of not so pleasant early morning sights!!

Fortunately that night was also the North Eastern’s night in JNU.What luck –  to land up on a party night.

Alas, things have changed.No it is not some old fogey rambling, but the fact that they asked for a student’s I card, was enough to shock me to silence.Apparently,last year there was a big scuffle between a Nigerian gang and a Manipuri gang, and the Dean had come down strongly on all parties within the campus.Security has increased everywhere. Checking I cards was so not JNU. But then ,of course, I was let in ,once I started singing the ” Seven Sisters of North East” song!!Now, that is so very JNU.

Here are a few glimpses of the North East night.

DSCF0735 (Sema Naga ‘Life in a Morung ,youth dormitories’.Incidentally my host Ronald was a Sema Naga)

DSCF0866 (  Cannot dance Bihu to save my soul.Not that I can dance anything other than the drunk chicken dance. Can you? Fun no? Not so much the next day when you wake up with a bruised knee.)

DSCF0933 (Umm.. Aren’t  we North Easterns a pretty bunch. And I use the word ‘we’ liberally. )

DSCF0971 ( Hunk,eh?)

The N E night was exactly similar to the ones we had in our time. Different tribes and communities presenting their songs and dances, and you hollered based on your affiliation and kinship. And as was the case in my time, international students  and students from other parts of India were equally agog clicking pictures with equal enthusiasm at this “exotic exhibition”.  😛

Next day I visited my favorite professor.It was as if  I just stepped out his room a day back. His room was as messy as only a professor’s room can be,with books overflowing from the stacks and piled up just about everywhere. And you could just about see the top of his head, as he was buried between mounds of books.

Of course I had to have lunch at the library canteen and my school canteen.Which is where I realized, JNU still hasn’t changed.The prices  were godsend for me. And of all people to recognize me was the bhaiyya in the school canteen “Aap International Guest house mein bohut aate the na? Fish Curry Khaane Keliye? ” Two years of doing a Masters Degree and this is what I get recognized for??? Fucking Fish Curry!!!!!! Well, I am definitely not on the Dean’s honours list, as you could have guessed.

DSCF1046 ( A new addition: a  condom vending machine standing proud next to the coffee machine in Ganga Dhaba, JNU)

The walls everywhere were adorned with posters (very well painted,every one of them), all denouncing capitalism and upholding communism. The thing you keep hearing about JNU being the last bastion of communism?? Well,its got some truth to it!! Some go so far as to address each other as  Comrade XYZ. We humoured those fools.

So, a couple of days  of watching grown men pee while I brush my teeth, I decided to move to another friend’s place.An Iranian guy ,V,doing his Phd in Virology…or something. Though with his leather jacket (which I borrowed many a time,when I was not appropriately dressed for a winter party) and the party going image  I had of him, it is difficult for me to imagine him doing a Phd..I put his bulky muscles to good use by making him lug up my heavy suitcase right up to his fourth floor apartment. He made me pay for it.Big time.The last night, we were randomly driving the streets of Delhi,when V and his friend A,(an Azerbaijani guy who works in the embassy),spotted a couple of white ‘damsels in distress’, trying to get an auto at around 12 in the night. The guys turned to me with begging eyes and I gave in. Though,let me tell you,at my age, it is NOT funny to pick up random girls asking them if we could drop them   to..wherever they were going. Even if they are from countries you thought long ceased to exist – Czechoslovakia (of course I did a spell check on this) and Malta.I am surprised they even got into the car,given that this was their first night in the country. The guys later on argued that it was because I was in the car.Still, I would not recommend this to any woman travelling alone-  or in twos.Even if you are up for fun..That ended with numbers and emails been exchanged and we dropped them at Connaught Place,whereas our original destination was barely  kms from where we picked them up.At this point, I must thank the Azerbaijan government for giving me unrestricted use of their embassy car . Not sure they had any clue what the car was been used for.

In between brunches,coffee,Dinner ,late night drinks and a couple of house parties , I had the time to sneak in lunch  at a chef’s place where he was teaching Indian cooking to a Turkish chef who plans to open a Indian restaurant in Istanbul. For lunch I had smoked pork  meat,cooked with Lai Xaak (‘Spinach’). No, the Turkish chef is not planning to include this in the menu,of course .

And then came a packet for the host. A packet of th ‘in’ famous Anarkali Butter Chicken . For,hold your breath, INR 6000 (no I have NOT added any zeros, by mistake).Not a seven course meal, not oyster,not Kobe beef.This is our very own butter chicken,said to have been invented by accident at the Moti Mahal restaurant in DaryaGanj, where if I am not mistaken, the dish will not be more than Rs.400? The food came packed not in gold laced crockery but in Tupperware.Even the Turkish chef had to shake his head in disbelief!!! The ingredients – Evian natural spring water (am already salivating),Hunt’s Tomato Paste (whatever happened to chefs taking pride in using the freshest of ingredients), Dabur Real Honey-among other things.

I say at 6000 per plate, I expect Anarkali to serve me the dish!!

DSCF1052

At times like these, I almost do a Lal Salaam to my institution which still serves food ordinary folks like us can afford.

Nika says Hello..

October 22, 2009

DSC01596 (She has almost perfected the artificial smile for the camera)

DSC01612

(This ,I think, is a genuine one- the loud crackers were a bit too much for her)

DSC01582 ( Drummer girl, all we need is a tattoo now. I hope she will be brave enough to get one,unlike her aunt, who never really found the perfect design.And now its too late.)

dsc01476-1

(Multi faceted,aren’t we? )

shyn1 ( Oh well, ‘Nuff said)